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Written by Dr Swati Rajagopal


New Delhi: As the mysterious new coronavirus, which has claimed at least 25 lives in China, continues to spread across the country and abroad, fears grow among the public that the epidemic may be bigger than was thought. A genetic analysis showed that the 2019-nCov that has triggered an outbreak of a deadly infectious respiratory disease in Wuhan may have transmitted to humans from snakes.

The theory is that the snakes may have contracted the virus from bats in a seafood market where both the species were sold before it was closed on January 1. An infection with the newly discovered Wuhan coronavirus causes similar symptoms to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. Both SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV are classified as zoonotic viral diseases and can cause severe respiratory illness in humans.

In the absence of a vaccine or specific medicine to treat the infection, it’s of the utmost importance that all of us have a better understanding of the life-cycle of these lethal viruses. In this article, talked to Dr Swati Rajagopal, Consultant - Infectious Disease & Travel Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore, who talked on various aspects of the novel coronavirus, including measures that one can take to stay safe. Below are excerpts from the Interview.

Salome Phelamei: How lethal is the new coronavirus discovered in China?

Dr Swati Rajagopal: The novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan spreads very rapidly and could be deadly because of the respiratory route of transmission.

Salome Phelamei: How to tell if someone has been infected with the new virus. What are the complications of a coronavirus infection and who’s at risk?

Dr Swati Rajagopal: Symptoms are similar to flu with a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, feeling unwell. It can cause pneumonia or bronchitis, multi-organ failure and may lead to death. Individuals with cardiopulmonary compromise, weakened immune system, infants and the elderly are more susceptible to complications.

Salome Phelamei: What is the treatment for coronavirus infection?

Dr Swati Rajagopal: Traditionally, there are no specific agents to treat human coronavirus. Supportive symptomatic treatment is administered to help relieve sore throat, cough, and fever. For patients in ICU - with ARdS, septic shock - supportive ICU with certain antiviral agents are used.

Salome Phelamei: What happens if a pregnant woman becomes infected with coronavirus? How will it impact her pregnancy?

Dr Swati Rajagopal: The initial transmission appears to be zoonotic - although there’s so much to learn about the new virus, which is in the same family of  MERS and SARS. In pregnant women, the more severe forms of MERS and SARS can get serious and there have been reports of stillbirths. However, data on the novel coronavirus (2029- nCoV) is yet to determine the effect on pregnancy.

Salome Phelamei: Are there any foods that can help fight coronavirus infection?

Dr Swati Rajagopal: There’s no specific food to prevent a coronavirus infection. However, eating a healthy diet consisting of foods that help strengthen the immune system can help prevent or reduce your risk of contracting a respiratory illness. Stay well hydrated. Eat more vegetables and fruits to improve immunity. Take warm liquids, vitamin C-enriched food, soups, green leafy vegetables. Adding spices like pepper and turmeric to the diet will hasten recovery. Avoid processed foods

Salome Phemei: What are the precautions that a person can take to stay safe from this deadly disease?

Dr Swati Rajagopal: You can reduce the risk of infections by doing the following:

  • Practice good hand hygiene and cough etiquette - such as covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact like shaking hands should be avoided
  • Avoid unprotected contact with sick people, especially those with cold and flu-like symptoms
  • Disinfect objects and surfaces that are contaminated
  • Cook meat and eggs thoroughly

At present we do not have a vaccine to prevent the infection, although work is ongoing to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. So, prevention and avoiding the spread of infections to others would hold the key.

Salome Phelamei: Thank you.

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